Winning new clients can be expensive, exhausting, and time-consuming. While writers should never stop their marketing efforts--doing so is a one-way ticket to eating cat food if your regular streams of income run dry--it's always nice to have as many repeat customers as possible.
The best way I know to earn repeat business is to provide five-star customer service. After all, most people won't go through the hassle of finding another provider if they believe they're already getting the best.
What does stellar customer service look like? Here are some ideas.
1. Respond promptly to inquiries. In the electronic age, the old cliche, "You snooze, you lose," has never been more accurate. I've found that if I don't respond within a few hours of receiving an inquiry, my would-be customer has usually already tracked down another provider.
2. Get the facts. Ask your prospect lots of questions to make sure you fully understand the scope of the project as well as your client's expectations. If something seems unclear, don't be embarrassed to keep asking in different ways until you get an answer that makes sense. Most clients won't be in the least annoyed by your questions. They would rather give you a lot of information at the beginning of the project than have to request extensive revisions on down the road.
3. Communicate clearly. Tell the potential client what you will charge and how soon you can deliver the work. If your prospect is looking for materials that you are not comfortable writing, explain that the work requested is not in your area of expertise and, if possible, pass the client along to another writer who can help.
4. Offer options. Don't automatically write off someone who balks at your prices. Instead, work together to find options the client can afford. If your fee for ghost writing is out of his price range, for instance, maybe she can write the material herself and pay you to edit it for her.
5. Get a signed contract. Once you have reached an agreement, memorialize it in writing and have your client sign it and fax or email it back to you. This protects you from "project creep," that uncomfortable phenomenon that occurs when the scope of the project slowly starts expanding while your payment remains the same. Of course, the contract also protects the client if you do not deliver as promised.
6. Under-promise and over-deliver. If you promise that you will deliver a piece of writing in three days, and it takes you a week, your client will understandably be disappointed and angry. If you promise to deliver a piece of writing in two weeks, and it takes you a week, your client will be delighted. In each case, the client gets the document in seven days, but in the first case, his expectations are not met while in the second case they are exceeded. The moral of the story: Don't offer to do something unless you are sure you can make it happen.
7. Address problems quickly. Studies show that more than 70% of customers are willing to give a business where they have had a bad experience a second chance...but only if their complaint is handled promptly and fairly. If you miss a deadline, for instance, you might offer a discount on the work along with a heartfelt apology.
I don't know about you, but I love opening Outlook and finding repeat business from a client. Keeping your standards of customer service extremely high is one way to help ensure that you, too, will receive multiple repeat assignments.